Saturday, January 12, 2008

How to Choose Apples and Some Insight Into the Wax Used to Make Them Shine

In previous tips and episodes of the Produce Picker Podcast (see Ep. 1) I've talked about things to look for when choosing perfect apples. To review, make sure when choosing apples that you follow these simple guidelines:

  • Apples should feel firm and heavy for their size
  • Be free of blemishes (bruises, soft spots, stem punctures)
  • Appear shiny with tight looking skin (which of course means passing the apple wrinkle test)
This final point, shiny looking skin is a result of a wax coating which occurs naturally on apples but has to be replaced after harvest. I've had several questions about what the wax is made of, why it's there, and is it safe to eat? Let me tell you a little about this waxy surface.

Before apples are picked from the tree they develop a waxy coating that helps to protect the apple from losing its moisture and prevents shriveling. However, after the apple is picked from the tree it gets washed at the orchard to remove any dirt, leaves, and other various debris picked up during harvest. Once the apple has reached the warehouse it has a wax applied back onto the apple to help protect it during the shipping process. Without this wax apples would show up to your local market severely depleted of moisture resulting in a soft and mussy apple, something I think we can all agree would not be very appealing or tasty for that matter.

So what exactly is the post harvest wax applied to apples made of and is it safe to eat? To begin with, yes it's safe to eat. According to the U.S. Apple Association all waxes applied to apples come from "natural ingredients and are certified by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to be safe to eat."
They come from natural sources including carnauba wax, from the leaves of a Brazilian palm; candellia wax, derived from reed-like desert plants of the genus Euphorbia; and food-grade shellac, which comes from a secretion of the lac bug found in India and Pakistan. These waxes are also approved for use as food additives for candy and pastries. (Now you know why your chocolate bars melt in your mouth but not in your hand…)
When applied to each apple the natural wax used by growers only consists of one or two drops of wax. According to the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association it only takes approximately one pound of this wax to cover up to 160,000 pieces of fruits and veggies.

So buff up an apple on your sleeve and enjoy the nice crunch of a juice filled McIntosh (pictured above) all the while knowing that the wax providing it's nice sheen and moist, flavorful taste is as natural as the apple itself and has been in use since the 1920's.

Additional resources for this article:
Washington Apple Commission and The U.S. Apple Association
Picture Provided by The U.S. Apple Association

Thanks for reading!

Ray a.k.a. The Produce Picker

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